As the editor of Chalmers Johnson’s Blowback Trilogy for the American Empire Project, I was struck by an oddity when the second volume, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, was published in 2004 to splendid reviews in this country. Johnson’s focus in the book — its heart and soul, you might say — was what he called our “empire of bases,” the over-700 military bases, giant to micro, that the Pentagon then listed as ours. The book vividly laid out the Pentagon’s global basing structure, its “footprint” (to use the term the Defense Department favors), in startling detail.
It was a way of getting at the nature of imperial power for a country that largely avoided colonies, but nonetheless managed to garrison the globe. As a topic, all those bases would have seemed unavoidable in any serious review, no less one praising the book. Yet, somehow, review after review managed not to mention, no less substantively discuss, this crucial aspect of Johnson’s thesis. Only recently, all these years later, has a mainstream review appeared in this country that focused on his work on those bases. Jonathan Freedland, reviewing the third volume in Johnson’s trilogy, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, in the New York Review of Books, took up the subject eloquently — and (wouldn’t you know it?), he isn’t an American. He works for the British Guardian.
Isn’t it strange that we Americans can garrison the planet and yet, in this country, bases are only a topic of discussion when some local U.S. community suddenly hears that it might lose its special base and an uproar ensues. Typically, we have made it through years of war since 2001, during which untold billions of dollars have gone into constructing massive bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, and yet these bases (as well as the planning behind them) have, until recently, gone almost totally unmentioned in all the argument, debate, and uproar over what to do about Iraq.
In reality — explain it as you will — Americans have little grasp of the enormity of the Pentagon, despite real military budgets that, by some calculations, exceed three-quarters of a trillion dollars yearly. (And don’t forget that, since 2002, we’ve been piling on with a second Defense Department, the hapless bureaucratic morass that goes by the name of the Department of Homeland Security.) Nick Turse, Tomdispatch associate editor whose book, The Complex — about all the newest twists on the old Military-Industrial you-know-what — will be out in the spring of 2008, quite literally sizes the Pentagon up for us. Tom
How the Pentagon Came to Own the Earth, Seas, and Skies
By Nick Turse
Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported on a proposal, championed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq in exchange for bipartisan Congressional support for the long-term (read: more or less permanent) garrisoning of that country. The troops are to be tucked away on “large bases far from Iraq’s major cities.” This plan sounded suspiciously similar to one revealed by Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt in the New York Times on April 19, 2003, just as U.S. troops were preparing to enter Baghdad. Headlined “Pentagon Expects Long-Term Access to Four Key Bases in Iraq,” it laid out a U.S. plan for:
a long-term military relationship with the emerging government of Iraq, one that would grant the Pentagon access to…. perhaps four bases in Iraq that could be used in the future: one at the international airport just outside Baghdad; another at Tallil, near Nasiriya in the south; the third at an isolated airstrip called H-1 in the western desert, along the old oil pipeline that runs to Jordan; and the last at the Bashur air field in the Kurdish north.